Factory workers at China’s largest meat processing center gave workers from the U.S. biomedical research company Imerys four hog carcasses, two of which were sent for human testing and the other two went for dogs.
It’s the first time food from a factory, based on human testing, has been discovered in human consumption in a major human health incident, according to safety experts.
The human tests, for a compound called flavonoids, were conducted in September 2012 and August 2013, according to the Washington Post. The other two animals were for research into pharmaceuticals, according to an independent investigator.
Imerys confirmed the report but is fighting its civil lawsuit.
The main reasons for the cases being found were the conditions of the meat, which were shopped from the grassy fields of the industry.
Three of the carcasses had long red bows made of fat attached to the legs, according to Zhang Wei, a manager at the International Institute of Technology, which found the meat in samples given it by Imerys.
The fact that the meats were found for human use are significant, experts say, because they’re unusual in that most human testing is conducted on animals. In China, the entire meat chain is farmed, meaning that the meat is often chewed by factory workers.
This potential for contamination is not new, but it’s never been experienced to this scale, Richard Fuller, director of the World Animal Protection, said.
“The fact that this has happened in China is bad for me because it makes the whole problem of foodborne pathogens absolutely plain for all of us to see,” he said.
The conditions of the meat presented the potential for contamination to every step of the chain, from the market through the kitchen to the dog food and the human testing. Inventories of the carcasses would indicate their path to human food, making it possible to trace them from Imerys to any of the Chinese companies that cooked, froze and packaged the meat.
Food safety officials do not have an exact idea of how many people in China have eaten the meat and tested negative for the flavonoids compound, but they estimate “several million consumers,” according to Xinhua.
Most of the consumption is Chinese, Xinhua reports, adding that it’s impossible to say if the distribution has stopped. It’s possible more firms could begin producing the meat again.